Lake John

Lake John

Lake John is located in State Game Lands 66 and is about 75 acres in size.  It is unique in that you can only hike to it, and it is completely untouched and undeveloped.  It is rare to find a lake of this size in Pennsylvania without houses, docks, and motorboats.  This is one of the most scenic lakes in the Endless Mountains.

I wanted to take a hike last weekend, but wasn’t sure where to go.  The summer heat often evaporates my desire to hike.  Just then, my friend Rick called and asked if we could go on a hike with his two kids.  I said sure.  I decided to invite my niece and nephew, but neither ended up going.  Rick invited his neighbor Andy, who brought his family.

I decided to take them to Lake John.  Although it was a long drive, the trail is fairly easy.  Lake John is hike number 30 in Hiking the Endless Mountains.

It was a warm, sunny day as we began the hike on a gated, grassy forest road.  The terrain was hilly as it passed meadows, deep hardwoods, and bogs.  The trail climbed a larger hill, where a trail to the left led down to the lake.  We snacked on tart blueberries along the trail.  Soon we reached the outlet of the lake.

I think the group was growing tired of the hike, but once they saw the lake, they all lit up and were impressed by the view.

Enjoying the water.

We walked down to the shore.  I was worried the water would be stagnant from the hot, dry weather.  But it was clear and refreshingly cool.  The rocks were slippery and yellow blossoms were about to bloom on the water lilies nearby.  The kids swam as the adults ate lunch.  Two large birds circled in the distance; they appeared to be eagles.  Everyone enjoyed the bright sunshine and the great scenery.  We had the lake all to ourselves.

The gang at Lake John

We began to get ready to leave and I started the climb away from the lake.  I turned around to see a deer browsing on a distant island and poking its head down to the water for a drink.  It was a great wildlife sighting in an impressive setting.  It reminded me of the National Geographic specials; I half expected an alligator to rise up, snag the deer, and pull it down into the water.

Rick looking at a deer on an island. It is above his head, just to the right.

We began the hike back, snacking on more blueberries.  We soon had another “wildlife” encounter- two other hikers heading down to the lake.  I have never seen other hikers on this trail.

We reached the cars, tired but fulfilled.  Everyone enjoyed the hike and appreciated the departure from normal routines to see this beautiful, hidden place.

More pictures.

Pictures from my April, 2009 hike.


Laurel Highlands

I recently spent some time exploring the beautiful Laurel Highlands in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Most of the hikes were in the Forbes State Forest, but I also explored Laurel Hill State Park, Linn Run State Park, and the Bear Run Nature Reserve.

When you think of hiking in the Laurel Highlands, the popular Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail comes to mind, but some of the best scenery in this region is off of that trail.

Click here for pictures of the trip.

Cole Run Falls and the Blue Hole

Cole Run Falls

This three mile loop offer some great scenery.  We began on the Cole Run Trail, which soon took us to the falls, a double drop no more than 15 feet high.  Luckily, there was still some water going over the falls despite the lack of rain.  The glen below the falls was rugged and scenic as it was enveloped in a jungle of rhododendrons.  The trail followed the rim of the glen, offering glimpses of the creek.  The forest was scenic, with large hardwoods.  The trail soon reached another stream, which it followed closely.  The creek babbled over moss-covered boulders.

The next highlight was the Blue Hole, a deep swimming hole.  Unfortunately, it is tough to see the hole from the trail, which climbs above it on a steep bank.  The trail ascended over rocky terrain, followed an old grade, and soon returned us to the dirt forest road we took back to the car.  The Blue Hole is right next to the road, so we drove down to check it out.  It is a modestly sized swimming hole that is crystal clear, and refreshingly brisk.

For a trail map and brochure of Cole Run Falls and the Blue Hole, click here.

Laurel Hill State Park

Massive hemlock in the Hemlock Natural Area

I was impressed with Laurel Hill State Park.  It is a serene, beautiful park with miles of trails, scenic forests, old-growth hemlock, Laurel Hill Lake, and pristine Laurel Hill Creek.  It is a best-kept secret.  While it doesn’t have the waterfalls, vistas, or other stand-out features of other parks, there was just something special about this park.

Any hiker must check out the Hemlocks Natural Area; I’m surprised it isn’t more famous.  It is an impressive stand of old-growth forest, and the hemlocks look fairly healthy.  The forest feels ancient.  Some of the trees are truly massive, and Laurel Hill Creek flows next to this sylvan gem, which only adds to its beauty.

Laurel Hill Creek

The Tram Road Trail is another highlight, although we did not get to hike it.  This trail follows Jones Mill Run to a stone dam built by the C.C.C.  This dam complements its surroundings so perfectly, the falls over the dam almost appear to be natural.

Laurel Hill Lake is another highlight.  Surrounded by steep, wooded hillsides, the lake is perfect for paddling or fishing.

Laurel Hill Lake

It was a pleasure visiting this state park, and I hope to return.

Wolf Rocks

Wolf Rocks Vista

The vista at Wolf Rocks is a popular destination in the Forbes State Forest.  The trail is fairly easy.  It begins with thick jungles of rhododendron, pine, and hemlock.  The trail soon reaches a loop, where we took the southern route.  We soon reached the rocks, offering nice views of a narrow mountain valley carved by Linn Run.  Distant ridges were to the west.  It was a great place to relax in the bright sun.

We returned on the loop via the northern route which offered a nicer hike through more diverse forests.

Map and brochure of Wolf Rocks and the surrounding area.

Spruce Flats Bog

Spruce Flats Bog

A short, easy hike on a gravel path from the Wolf Rocks trailhead will take you to another gem- the Spruce Flats Bog.  This large wet meadow is surrounded by wind-blown pine and spruce.  The bog has thousands of flesh-red pitcher plants; I have never seen so many.  A short boardwalk and observation platform were under construction when we visited.  The bog is a remarkable place with incredible biodiversity.

A brochure about the bog.

Beam Rocks

View from Beam Rocks

Another short hike leads to Beam Rocks, a popular destination in the Forbes State Forest.  This prominent rock outcrop offers great views to the east, and is often visited by rock climbers.  Large boulders litter the forest below the main cliff face where there are rhododendrons, carpets of moss, and twisted trees growing over the outcrops.  The Laurel Highlands Trail traverse the bottom of Beam Rocks.

Linn Run State Park

Waterslide at Flat Rock

Linn Run is a secluded state park that occupies a narrow mountain valley adjacent to the Forbes State Forest.  I had been there many years ago.  The primary goal was to see Adams Falls, but the falls was reduced to a trickle as it sprinkled over its hanging ledge.  The remainder of the Adams Falls Trail was still a nice hike, with some huge oak trees.

We decided to hike the Flat Rock Trail, and I’m glad we did; it is the most scenic trail in the park as it follows Linn Run with thick hemlocks and rhododendrons.  It even features some old stone ruins from what appears to be a home or cabin.  Before reaching Flat Rock there is a wooden footbridge that serves no purpose, as the ground next to it was as high as the bridge itself.

Flat Rock is a beautiful spot where Linn Run cascades over hard, slick, sloping bedrock, creating slides and pools.  Blooming rhododendrons framed the setting.

Bear Run Nature Reserve

Arbutus Trail

This preserve is owned by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and is adjacent to Fallingwater.  The preserve is about 5,000 acres in size and features a network of 20 miles of trails; the preserve is unique in that backpacking is allowed and there are several backcountry campsites.  The trails meander through forests, rhododendron jungles, boulders, and pine forests; there are small mountain streams and some views of the Youghiogheny River.  We did a short hike along the Arbutus, Rhododendron, and Pine Tree Trails.

Click here for a map and brochure.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Replica of Fort Necessity

After so much hiking, it was time for some history.  We visited Fort Necessity National Battlefield, which was the site of the first battle in the French and Indian War.  This battle involved George Washington, who was fighting for the British at the time.  Apparently, Washington had a lot to learn.  First, he ambushes the French in Jumonville Glen, where a French general was killed.  Expecting revenge, Washington builds a rather pathetic timber garrison in a meadow; sadly, Washington builds it too close to the forest.  The French soon arrive, hide in the forest, and since the garrison is so close, have little trouble picking off the subordinates of our first president.  It was also raining, so Washington’s men could barely shoot back and their trenches were filling with water.  Needless to say, Washington did not have a good day and he surrenders.  To make matters worse, his translator did a poor job translating the French surrender documents, which stated Washington took personal responsibility for the assasination of the French general in Jumonville, even though Washington did not kill him.  Washington signs the surrender document and the French and Indian War soon erupts, which lead to the Seven Years War in Europe.  Who would’ve thought a skirmish on this obscure meadow would lead to a world war?  The lesson: think twice before ambushing somebody.  Another lesson: everyone makes mistakes, and the mistakes our first president made are probably a lot worse than yours.  Of course, all we remember is that he threw something (rock? apple?) across the Potomac.

The battlefield is also the site of the first national “highway”; there is an old tavern and tollhouse.   Apparently, people got tired of taking their horse-drawn wagons through the woods.

The national battlefield features a modern visitor’s center and several miles of trails through the woods and meadows.

Dunmore Reservoir No. 1

The trail

Even in urban areas, there are places worthy of exploration.  Habitats and ecosystems know no bounds.  The Dunmore Reservoir No. 1 is such a place.  The reservoir is near I-84 and US 6 and is located between Dunmore and Moosic Mountain.  The reservoir is owned by the Pennsylvania American Water Company, which allowed public access and a trail to be built around the reservoir a few years ago.  Hopefully, the generosity of the company will extend to other reservoirs and lands.

You can reach the reservoir via Dunham Drive or Tigue Street, off of I-84.  We visited on a humid, overcast day; traffic rumbled through the trees.  An easy path meandered through the woods as the reservoir glistened through the trees.  We saw a few deer run through the woods.  The trail is not really blazed, but is easy to follow.  When it is blazed, there are yellow placards on the trees.  The trail generally keeps some distance from the shore, but it is easy to reach the water via side trails.  Other unofficial trails intersect, but the main trail is usually obvious.

The woods were mostly oaks and other hardwoods, with ferns and lowbush blueberries.

We passed a massive oak tree and followed a side trail down to the waters edge where there were some picnic tables.  The clear water featured scores of bluegills.

The trail went along the far end of the reservoir where there was sphagnum moss and more blueberries.  We crossed a wet area along a boardwalk and soon thereafter, a rock hop across a stream.  The trail went closer to the shore, offering some nice views of the reservoir.

Dunmore Reservoir No. 1

We soon reached the dam where there was an elderly man sitting on a bench, enjoying the view over the water.  He asked how our walk was, and we said it was a nice trail.  He smiled as his white hair danced in the breeze.  He seemed to take great pride in our response.

The trail went below the dam and then climbed back up to where we parked.  This trail is realtively easy and is a good hike for kids, although there are short climbs where the trail goes below the dam.  Most people seemed to park at the gated end of Tigue Street, although there is also a parking area on a side road off of Dunham Drive.

Nearby are Barney’s Ledges and more of the Moosic Mountain Barrens, said to be the largest barrens of their kind in the eastern United States.  I hope to explore more of these places in the future.

More pictures.

The location of the reservoir.



Mountain Springs Hike with the Kids (and three bears)

Christian at Beech Lake

On July 4, I took my niece Kaitlyn and nephew Christian on a hike to Mountain Springs and Beech Lake; we also met up with my friend Ed Kintner.  This hike follows a portion of the route in hike number 29 in Hiking the Endless Mountains.  It was going to be a hot day, so we got an early start.  I picked up the kids at 8 a.m. with their backpack filled with eight or so water bottles.  No one was going to be thirsty on this hike.

We parked near The Meadows, where several mountain bikers were putting their gear away after a morning ride.  We began with a side hike to Beech Lake, a favorite place of mine.  The lake is untouched and secluded.  It can only be reached by hiking and unofficial trails circle the shore.  Plump berries dotted the blueberry bushes, but it was clear other animals also invited themselves to the bounty.  We also saw the remnants of turtle shells and their nest, but we weren’t sure if the turtles hatched or faced a more unfortunate fate.

The trail meandered through the woods as the temperatures rose under a bright sun.  We passed a deer and flushed out several grouse.  The kids were doing well, with relatively few complaints, other than not taking enough time to pick berries.

The trail led to a series of cliffs with fine views; here, we took a break to enjoy the panorama and more importantly, the breeze.

Kaitlyn at the overlook

While Christian made certain to pack plenty of water, he seemed to forget to bring enough food.  Their meager supply of granola bars were soon gone, so Ed and I shared some of our food with them.

The trail followed the cliffs and then dropped, passing below huge boulders and cliffs.  I was hiking with Kaitlyn when I saw a black mass torpedo through the ferns and then hugged a tree- it was a bear cub!  We told Christian to hurry up so he could see.  Then there was another bear, the mother, who ran up the slope.  And then a second cub ran from the right and also went up a tree.  The cubs came down part way, and then climbed to near the top of the trees.  The mother bear was hidden.  What an incredible sight.  I have never seen three bears on one hike.  But this also posed a problem, the trail went right under the trees where the cubs sought refuge.  After looking at the cubs, we circumvented them by scrambling up the ledges to the left, and then came back down.  We made a lot of noise to avoid startling the bears, but I did announce I was willing to spare one of the kids, and possibly both of them, as an appropriate sacrifice for safe passing.  Kaitlyn gave me a dirty look.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a good picture of the bears.  Plus, I didn’t know how many more would be popping out of the ferns.

We hiked down to Bowmans Creek where we took another break under the hemlocks.  The heat was becoming a concern.  We crossed the creek on some old railroad tracks and began hiking up the creek, passing ruins from the ice making days, when all these lakes were used to harvest ice in the winter.  This industry supported entire towns, which have been enveloped by the forests.  We all could’ve used some ice on this hike, except we were about 80 years too late.

We reached another trail, a shortcut, and I decided to take it.  The kids did very well, but it was getting too hot.  We hiked back to the car along a dirt road.  The kids are looking forward to their next hike.

Click here for a few more pictures.




Sones Pond and the Colley Pub

Blue on blue- Sones Pond

After our quick backpack trip on the Loyalsock Trail, we decided to take a drive up and check out Sones Pond.  We reached the pond and it was a gorgeous sight.  The blue skies and puffy clouds reflected off of the surface as a green forest enveloped the shore.  The clear, amber water was cool as minnows darted in random directions.  With the soft breeze, warm sunshine, and no bugs- I didn’t want to leave.  The pond is in the Loyalsock State Forest and is open to fishing and non-powered boats.  The Loyalsock Trail follows the northeast corner of the pond, where there are some superb campsites.  Regardless if you like to hike or not, the pond is beautiful place to get away, fish, or have a picnic.  For those who are more adventurous, there are several off-trail waterfalls along Coal Run, the pond’s outlet stream.

Next was a stop at the Colley Pub along PA 87 in the tiny hamlet of Colley.  This is the perfect place for an after-hike meal and some local flavor- great food, huge portions, reasonable prices, plus a large deck overlooking the valley.  Just keep in mind the pub does not accept credit cards.

Enjoying the Colley Pub

More pictures.

Location of Sones Pond.



Loyalsock Trail Backpack to the Secret Campsite

About to begin, kind of- Leigh Ann’s first backpacking trip

This past weekend we decided to do a quick overnight on the Loyalsock Trail; this would be Leigh Ann’s first time backpacking.  The hope was to do the Loyalsock-Link Loop.  However, we did not get to Worlds End until about 3 p.m.  We packed up under cloudy, humid skies and started down the trail.  The initiation soon began.  The trail up to High Rock is rocky and steep.  Once at High Rock Vista, it was clear we could not do the loop with such a late start and still reach the Secret Campsite.  We returned to the park for Plan B.

Plan B was to drive to the Haystacks parking area off of Route 220, and hike into the Secret Campsite from there.  We were soon on the trail and reached the Haystacks in good time.  As luck would have it, the skies cleared and sun shone over the rapids.  Only one other couple was there.  We relaxed a little and proceeded down the trail for several more miles.  We passed another couple backpacking, who asked about the Haystacks.  A turn off of the trail and short bushwhack soon brought us to the Secret Campsite.  As the name implies, I don’t think I’m allowed to let you all know where it is at.  However, with its stone furniture, isolated location, soft ground, and deep swimming holes, I bet you wish I could tell you.

Loyalsock Creek

We set up camp, swam, ate and relaxed.  I stayed up a little later as the stars emerged and a nearly full moon rose to illuminate the creek with a ghostly glow.

The next morning was bright and warm as the sun shone across the riffles in the creek.  Near camp were two symmetrical mounds of moss that resembled, well, you’ll see from the pictures.  Leigh Ann took a picture of me holding them as we laughed.  We got our things together and headed back on the trail.  We pretended we were thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail; the campsite we left was Mt. Springer in Georgia and the parking area was Katahdin in Maine.  We entered a new state every half mile or so.  It made for a quick thru-hike.  We were soon at the car, where we decided to check out Sones Pond.

More pictures.